What is your name, age, and location?
My name is Lex Schroeder, I’m 26, and I live in Somerville, Massachusetts.
What is your profession?
I co-direct a media organization dedicated to knowledge-sharing in the social justice field called the New Prosperity Initiative (NPi). We profile very effective or socially innovative organizations, for-profit or nonprofit, and host dialogues aimed at connecting leaders and citizens. I also work as a freelance writer and do some social media consulting with particular emphasis on where social media meets company purpose and audience.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I entered college as an English major because I always loved writing, then switched to Government. I have a B.A. in Government with a focus in International Relations from Smith College. I’ve yet to decide about grad school. I’m interested in part-time writing, publishing, and organizational change programs.
What was your first job?
My first job out of college was waiting tables. I did this for about a year before finding my first job in publishing at a small research and educational company in Cambridge.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
A few different things all seemed to come together at once about three years ago. I was getting bored with my job because my heart wasn’t in it enough, and then I saw Deborah Frieze speak about her work with The Berkana Institute. She gave a talk on living systems theory, the breaking down and reinventing of old systems and institutions in our culture and across the globe, the need to support new ways of living and working in community. I, too, had a sense of significant systems-level change happening all around me. I wanted to become a part of a larger movement of people supporting innovative work being done in a variety of sectors. I also wanted to do more of what I truly love—working with big ideas, connecting people to one another, developing my skills as a writer and publisher.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
Without a doubt, it’s been developing NPi—the media startup. I had no plans to go into business, and I’m still learning a ton about social business. But creating something from nothing, building on others’ ideas and offering something you believe to be of value—I know this has changed the entire course of my life. I realize I can create my own work. Then just having the opportunity to interview and meet so many wonderful leaders in greater Boston—I’ve never been so inspired and grateful for all the good work people are doing every day. People are finding very real solutions to tough social, economic, and environmental problems. They’re doing the work that needs to be done and work so many other people can learn from. These are stories that need to be told.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
Unfortunately, I’m always hesitant to talk about women’s empowerment because I think the meaning of word feminism has been terribly twisted over time. This is deeply saddening to me because what it’s really about is full equality and respect for both women and men. There’s nothing exclusive about it. I want to say this because this is the first thought that always comes up for me.
I believe men and women, in many cases (not all), have very different strengths. I can’t think of a particular moment when being a woman has helped my career, but I know my greatest strengths are strengths I would describe as more typically female. I place high value on things like partnerships, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and communication. There’s nothing linear about the way my brain works, and I don’t do well in hierarchical environments. I know this isn’t true for all women, but in this way, just being myself has helped me challenge more traditional ways of doing things. I’m most creative and innovative when I respect what comes naturally to me. I think society benefits most when we honor and are inclusive of all genders and different types of intelligence.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
Few people took me seriously when I first talked about starting a business. It’s changed a little since I’ve made new connections over the past few years, but it’s still something I notice. I don’t think many people look at a young woman and think “she could be an entrepreneur.” This isn’t happening yet and so people are less likely to know how to respond when you tell them your business idea or describe your work. It would be fantastic to be taken more seriously sometimes.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I’ve had a few great mentors, but I’d have to say my aunt Barb has had the greatest impact on the course of my life, including my career. She’s one of the most driven, thoughtful, and extraordinarily kind people I know. She taught me how to navigate through many different professional environments while still being honest about who I am. She’s modeled this wonderful mix of confidence and humility for me. I think many people call all these things “soft skills,” but I don’t believe they’re soft at all. They’ve made all the difference for me.
I have to share a few favorite writers and thinkers, too. Caroline Knapp was an incredibly intelligent writer/journalist who tackled very tough issues, but was also really funny and readable. Her work continues to inspire me. If I could, I’d buy every woman I know a copy of her book, Appetites: Why Women Want. It’s about body image, eating disorders, sexuality, desire, relationships, consumerism, all of it. Other favorite creative folks are Twyla Tharp, Anne Lamott, Mark Doty, W.S. Merwin, and Jane Hirshfield. Jane Hirshfield’s poems feel wonderfully honest and courageous to me. There’s something reassuring and empowering about them. I don’t think we deal with grief very well in this culture and Jane Hirshfield does this well. And she writes these beautiful little spare poems that just knock you over sometimes.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
I had a high school teacher who, at the end of my senior year of high school, pulled me aside and said something like, “Listen… You think differently than a lot of other people. You think about the world differently, make different associations. I want you to know that that’s ok. It can be a good thing.” I was stressed at the end of a long year and I was moving very fast, so I didn’t really hear her. She said it again. She made sure I understood her.
I’d pass along the same message to young women going into any field: First, slow down if you feel like you may need to slow down. And in general, have the courage to stand by your own ideas. Be willing to stay for a while with discomfort when you make a major life change or take a big risk because that discomfort will go away. You’ll come out on the other side. And connect with a community of people who share your values so that you have support. For whatever reason, I think a lot of young women believe they need do it all alone, especially when it comes to career, and it’s not true. It also doesn’t make much sense if you think about it. We have a wealth of insights and gifts to offer one another.
Lastly, I’d say notice what gives you energy in your life and career. Pursue those things. Our bodies tell us a lot about what is right for us, even professionally I think.
– Interview by Elena Rossini